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About immobility and energy balance

The human body is a fantastic creation. As long as there is a balance between the input (=energy from food) and output (=energy used by our bodies) we usually don´t have to worry too much about what we eat and drink. This is often referred to as the energy balance, and the simple equation is that the more you spend on physical activities, the more you need to eat…and the more you can eat without gaining those extra pounds. This is all fine, and in addition to facilitating energy balance, regular physical exercise has many positive effects both on our bodies and our brains.

But physical exercise doesn´t come easily to everyone. I am mainly thinking of people who are forced to immobility for different reasons. People who are disabled, injured after an accident, sick, or recovering after surgery. The temporary or permanent immobility often means that less energy is spent and that the necessary nutrients need to be packed into fewer calories to withhold energy balance. Since meals can be the highpoints of sedentary days, it´s so easy to consume more and upset the sensitive energy balance. This can easily lead to a vicious circle where overweight and inflammation can aggravate the immobility and delay recovery.  

So – what can an immobile person do to maintain a healthy energy balance?

My most important advice to anyone who wants to live healthily, immobile or not, is to consume less sugar and fast carbs. The blood sugar spikes caused by these treats tend not only to drive inflammation and make us fat. The satisfaction we get from these foods and beverages is also very short-lived. Everyone who has had an after-lunch slump and felt the associated sugar cravings knows what I am talking about. The cravings often lead to consuming even more sugar and puts it all on repeat.

A very effective way to avoid sugar and reduce input of energy is to replace the sugary sodas and energy drinks with water. Flavored or natural. Still or sparkling – bubbles can increase the feeling of fullness which might help you to eat smaller portions. All waters will do the same thing – quench your thirst without adding calories. This is also true about artificially sweetened beverages, but there is more and more research showing that these can drive inflammation, be harmful to the gut microbiota, and cause sugar cravings just as regular sodas.

Equally important is to take a look at what you eat. If you are used to eating food like fries, white bread, pizzas, and burgers, try to replace some of it with foods that are less packed with “fast” energy and can keep you satisfied for a longer time. Increase the proportion of whole grain bread, oatmeal, veggies, pasta, and fiber-rich legumes in your daily diet. This will help you get the nutrients you need, at the same time taking in less energy/fewer calories. And since these foods also give more lasting satiety, chances are you will be less hungry and eat less when the next meal is served.

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